Pressure on advertisers, police checkpoints outside of media offices and journalists’ houses, less activity on social networks for fear of being persecuted are some of the obstacles. Likewise, requests from sources not to be consulted or at least not mentioned. These are signs of the grave reality facing journalism in Nicaragua under the Ortega-Murillo regime, which seeks to “silence critical voices,” reveals a report by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).
“What is sought is to silence any questioning of the power concentrated in the ruling couple. The silence of the streets says it all, and the silence of the social networks also,” explained Carlos Jornet, president of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the press and information.
An international mission of the IAPA held meetings, between June 28 and July 2, with journalists, media executives, opposition leaders, academics, businessmen, representatives of civil society and the Catholic Church to learn about the situation of freedom of expression in Nicaragua. “All the meetings were held online due to the limitations caused by the pandemic and the difficulties imposed on journalists by Nicaraguan immigration authorities to enter the country,” he detailed.
On this matter, Jornet insisted that after the conversations they were able to confirm “a grave deterioration of human rights” in the country. “It is a violation of press freedom for journalists to be summoned and questioned about how their work is done. It infuriates the regime to have courageous journalists determined not to keep silent,” he noted.
“When in a country there is no law, justice, or freedom of expression, there are no minimum conditions for democracy and if there is no democracy, the one in power is an autocrat, a tyrant who seeks to remain in power,” he denounced.
Urrejola: “You can’t breathe in Nicaragua”
The directors of the IAPA delivered their report on the situation of press freedom in Nicaragua to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom in Expression, which collects testimonies “in all the cases under the commitment to maintain absolute confidentiality. This reflects the prevailing climate of anxiety after the succession of raids, searches, open threats, illegal persecution, military espionage and arbitrary arrests.”
Antonia Urrejola, president of IACHR, affirmed that they have denounced the reduction of civic spaces in Nicaragua and that concern has increased since the end of last year with the approval of laws designed to repress under different forms.
“There is harassment of independent journalism. In Nicaragua the repression has not stopped. Everything has been silenced, and this leads to the situation in Nicaragua being one of the most worrysome in the entire continent,” she expressed.
Urrejola insisted that “you cannot breathe in Nicaragua. That is the truth. You cannot breathe in democratic terms and of public debate, because any voice that stands out is being harassed, imprisoned or has to leave.”
“Dissident voices have been silenced, the street protests by silent mechanisms of repression. You cannot live under permanent siege, and this is what we have seen in Nicaragua,” she explained.
They try to impose an “information blackout”
The Ortega-Murillo regime “tries to establish an information blackout” in the country with four months to go before the general elections schedules for November 7, warned this week the Report on Violations of Press Freedom, published by newspaper La Prensa.
A total of 44 cases of press freedom violations were registered in Nicaragua, during the month of June, according to the monitoring carried out by 18 promoters and previously performed by the now-defunct Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
The document details that of the total of cases registered in this period, 18 civil and criminal proceedings, 17 aggressions and attacks, 7 abuses of state power, 1 arbitrary detention and 1 stigmatizing speech were reported.
A total of 88.6% of the attacks (39 of the 44) reported last month were perpetrated by state agents.
“In Nicaragua the threats, attacks and attempts to silence independent journalism are not recent, they date back to the assumption of power by the Government of Daniel Ortega in 2007,” the report recalls. However, it warns that between May and June 2021 “they have increased on a large scale with high levels of violence and state hostility.”
The report mentions that the Special Cybercrime Law known as “Gag Law,” which came into force since December 30, 2020, “is the main legal threat with which the Government seeks to intimidate media directors, program directors and reporters from the whole country.”
“It has been evidenced in the incriminating interrogations implemented by the Prosecutor’s Office since May 2021,” says the report.
Last week, the Vice President and First Lady, Rosario Murillo, warned independent journalists about publishing “fake news” on health issues, with information from “false doctors and false prognosis,” which she said could be punished with the Special Cybercrimes Law.
“We have said it, media outlets that we call chatterboxes that dedicate themselves to singing only malignancies, and well, we reiterate, you reap what you sow: nobody is eternal, the life of human beings is a transit,” said Murillo.
The controversial law has 25 definitions, however, according to its critics, it does not define two key concepts for its application: fake news and distorted information. That is, it will be the judicial system, controlled by magistrates and judges associated to Ortega’s party, who will have the discretion to decide what is or is not fake news or if the information causes alarm, fear or anxiety, according to the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua Movement (PCIN).
On June 25, Murillo accused journalists whom she said “make up anything to sow fear,” calling them “evil,” “hypocrites,” “harmful,” “criminals,” “communication terrorists,” and thanked God that there are only “a few wretched ones left.”